Writing all of that down has revived some unpleasant memories. It's no surprise so many of us suffer from a collective social amnesia, trying to put our traumatic past out of mind and concentrating instead on the day-to-day business of just surviving. Too much of that sort of retrospection is bad for my mental health; I need to get out for some fresh air, so I straddle my reliable old treader and set off for the nearby South Downs National Park.
Despite the development of Portsmouth and surrounding towns encroaching relentlessly at its borders it is still there; though in a much reduced area. We're assured that although some parts of it must be regrettably sacrificed for essential lebensraum its ambience will be preserved; mostly by the use of landscaping and clever tree plantings to screen the modern world away from the contrived illusion of the countryside that used to be. Sadly it doesn't work so well in practice. Once you complete the low-gear grind up the road that leads to the summit of Butser Hill and see things from that perspective, you find the effect is lost.
The view to the north is the suburban sprawl spreading alongside the A3; while in the distance Petersfield is a much larger town than it used to be even a couple of years ago. Looking further beyond across the sour green turf covering the crumpled panorama of the South Downs you notice more 'sympathetic' developments spreading like spots of mould; yet despite all the indignities that this urbane pocket wilderness has suffered, a sense of its former rural self still remains.
Turning to the east, on the far side of the artificial valley gouged through the chalk of the hill around a century ago for the trunk road, the forest of the Queen Elizabeth Country Park is beginning to turn varied shimmering hues of gold and burnt copper. In early September is this a portent of another severe winter arriving soon?
I stop here to eat a cereal bar, and just let the ambience of the place soak into me. As a kid we used to come up here a lot for family breaks away from the city below. I spent seemingly endless days up here with Mum and Dad picnicking. Often we tried - and more often than not failed - to fly a kite. Or else I enjoyed running down the rabbit hole pocked slopes; something I gave up on when one of my feet got caught in a burrow and I sprained my ankle.
Later in life Karen and I used to spend romantic times here, until our differing expectations of what life should be pulled us in different directions. I thought it best to stay here and make a steady but unexceptional career in the media. She, having her head turned by the bright lights of London, moving there to become a corporate genealogist. (Don't ask me! But there must be enough companies in the LEZ who want their histories researched for her to make a living.) No, we don't stay in touch.
Isn't it paradoxical when you seek out the country places which are so special to you in order to forget for a while the things that bother you, the result is only to dredge up yet more memories? Yet the exercise in getting here and the power latent in the fabric of your peculiar spiritual place works unnoticed healing on you. Your issues may still be there but you feel better in some indefinable way. You may not 'get over it', whatever that It is; be it a bereavement, or a long-term relationship breaking up; or just getting by in the Fed; but you learn to accept what is, and can't be changed. Being up here alone with your thoughts and reconnecting with yourself puts things in perspective.
In any case you can't be depressed for too long hearing the skylarks singing and overcoming the grey aural mist of the road below. Or seeing that startlingly blue cloudless sky above. You could imagine it to still be as pure as it was in the past; unpolluted by the diluted fallout and the orbiting debris of our stupidity. There is something of the infinite in that piercing intensity of colour; the sky endures, as does the landscape. Eventually it must yield to the inevitability of geologic forces or a reglaciation, but from our mayfly brief perspective it was here long before us, and will be so long after we are gone. I find the thought strangely reassuring; but then that may be just me.
Hark at me getting all profound and poetic! I'd better stop musing and work out where to go next. l could swoop back down the road again and then follow one of the many graveled cycle tracks that lead to one of the three newly-constructed underpasses which go beneath the London road and connect Butser Hill to the QE park. There I could park my bike at the visitor centre and take one of the numerous walking routes. Or I might go as far as Havant Thicket; I've not been there for a while
I'd better get moving again, there's a chill nip in this north-easterly breeze even this early in the season, so you don't want stay still for too long. I decide to ride under the A3 and head south to the Thicket.
Passing the entrance to the Park I think I've made the right choice; the scenic honey pot is usually crowded with people arriving by bus, and there in the nearly empty car park is a coach disembarking a Connie walking group. Forget any hopes of finding some woodland tranquility here today; I've seen these groups before! They, and the curious they've managed to entice along with the offer of free transport and admission, will be marching along at a quick pace to the shrill encouragement of the group leaders. During any brief pauses to snack, drink, and draw breath they may get a quick lecture about the natural history of the War Down in the same patronising lilting tone of voice which always seems to be used when addressing non-Connies as if they were young children; and then it will be off and away again.
These groups don't understand how they're missing the whole point of countryside recreation, but I don't mind if they continue to put people off the Consensus movement by doing so. I'd just rather not hear their enthusiastically loud voices and jaunty singing echoing through the trees.
Riding around the bike paths of the Thicket I notice new signs proclaiming what you can and can't do, and the increased penalties for breaching the rules. There are occasional Compy cycle patrols; probably there to prevent the foraging of wild fruit or edible herbs, and by the look of the bushes I've seen, utterly ineffective at their mission. Even out in the country the all-encompassing regimentation of our lives persists. No, there's no getting away from the times we live in.
On my way back via the designated cycle path (Federation-wide, cycling off-road is restricted to only those paths where it is specifically permitted) I'm bursting to relieve myself. Looking around there's no one else in sight, and no obvious cameras attached to the trees so I stop the bike, dismount, and wheel it along a barely visible narrow side trail - possibly an old deer run - deeper into the scrubby coppices. Out of sight and sound of the main trail I can ease my aching bladder. I'm alone here; apart from the breeze sighing through the tree tops and the occasional bird call, all is silence.
I pause to savour this hidden pocket of calm. I deliberately left my scroll at home today; no-one knows where I am. No-one can contact me, recall me back to the office to sort out an urgent matter, know my position by triangulating my signals, or distract me. I am incommunicado; free. Just for a wild moment I can understand the attraction of leaving it all behind and going Feral.
Perhaps I've got Feral tendencies because I'm looking around at this tiny clearing and noticing among the ancient confetti of litter which the credders have yet to reach the long aged ashes of a small fire; what looks like the sun bleached, flattened remains of a pre-Crises cola can trampled into the soil (you can't buy those sort of soft drinks now), and over on the other side of this tiny clearing, some blackberries!
Foraging may be illegal but I'm not going to let these go to waste, or leave them for someone else to find. Remembering to blow long and hard over them in the hope of dislodging any radioactive dust which might conceivably have fallen on them, I put the berries in my mouth without touching my lips and leaving any tell-tale stains on them or my fingers (a survival tip well-learned during the Transition). I've tasted better; they're not quite ripe yet, but it's the vitamins I want.
I was always taught to "Leave something for nature", so I don't pick any more than I can comfortably eat. There will be plenty of fruit left behind for the birds and animals. Leave No Trace is always a wise maxim to live by. If you've left no obviously visible evidence you've been here then there's less likely to be any unwanted attention if you visit this spot again; and gorging yourself with too many unripe berries will give you an upset stomach, or cramps: That's another lesson forgotten we've had to relearn the hard way.
Carefully pushing my bike back towards the main trail I stop and listen, before looking through a bush for any curious observers with unwelcome questions, but there's no one else around. Back in the saddle it doesn't take too long to reach the signposted turn towards the 'Ville, and shortly after I'm leaving the Thicket behind.
It's late afternoon now, and I notice the change in the quality of the light; still bright and clear but with the angled platinum tint of the sun beginning to finish its day. Perhaps it's just my imagination, but is that big, almost ouranophobia inducing expanse of sky turning a darker shade of cobalt as well? The breeze nudging me along feels slightly cooler, with a chillness which hints of colder to come from the Arctic wastelands of the imagination. I can feel the hairs on the back of my neck rising and a shiver running down my spine. I think it must be an instinctive connection to my inner animal, but there are times when I'm aware of great yet imperceptible things moving; the changing of the seasons, and of how insignificant I am in comparison. I sense the cusp of the tipping point is now; and feel the urge to burrow a shelter and gather in food in anticipation of the cruel winter times to come. It is an almost palpable feeling.
Riding back through a different A3 underpass, I'm relieved to find no Compy checkpoint in operation and it looks as if the vandalised cameras have yet to be replaced. You never can tell though; they might be cunning enough to have installed an unobtrusive, more advanced type in the burnt-out casings of the previous model, or a covert Smart Portal.
Whenever I go out I only take the smart cards I'm likely to need, and them keep them shielded in a screened privacy wallet. And I always try to keep the top of my helmet pointing toward any possible camera locations so its peaked visor obscures my face. It's always best to be careful; no point in giving them any data you don't have to.
With a fair wind behind me I hope to have an untroubled ride home. If I don't trigger the rad detector at the flats' common entrance and need to visit the local decon centre then so much the better. The portal is regularly checked, so we know it works. So far I've only set off the alarm a couple of times, but each has been an experience I'd rather not repeat.
Hurrah! On returning home the portal alarm remains silent. But I find some Connie flyers pushed through my letterbox. Our complex of flats is access controlled; people can't just wander into the foyer from the street, and there was an informal agreement between all we residents not to let Connie doorknockers in. Now it seems someone has let us all down. I wonder who it was?